Wabi-Sabi Weekend: Christmas Ease

On Wabi-Sabi Weekends, I post excerpts from my book, Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House.


“After all, what is your hosts’ purpose in having a party? Surely not for you to enjoy yourself; if that were their sole purpose, they’d have simply sent champagne and women over to your place by taxi.”—P.J. O’Rourke

I wanted to give my kids the elaborate Christmas Eve memories that my mom had given my siblings and me. When I was growing up, we invited friends and neighbors for an open house, and it was a magical night. The dining table groaned with hors d’oeuvres, wine flowed freely, Christmas carols played on the reel-to-reel and a fire crackled in the fireplace. It was Currier and Ives perfect, and I had no idea what it took to make that happen. My mom had my two older sisters to watch my brother and me, and she worked part-time. I’m not saying she wasn’t amazing, but she had some resources I didn’t have.

When my kids were very young, I invited all our friends and neighbors for an annual Christmas Eve gathering. The party sent me into overdrive. Deep into the long, long winter nights leading up to that party, I made appetizers, wrapped gifts for Santa to distribute to all the kids, cleaned my Christmas china and baked cookies. By Christmas Eve day, I was exhausted, and my kids were tired of being ignored.

One year, as I frantically searched for coconut while swiping at the filthy baseboards that I hadn’t noticed before and arranging evergreen boughs for the table, my three-year-old daughter, Cree, kept asking me to play. I kept saying no, and she kept asking. I snapped. “Can’t you see how much I have to do?” I yelled. “I haven’t even set the table yet. And don’t crack those nuts in here!”

Cree burst into tears. “Mommy, I hate the Christmas Eve party!” she said. “I hate Christmas Eve!”

She got my attention. I sat down on the floor, leaned against the dirty baseboard, and took Cree into my lap so we could crack nuts and throw the shells on the floor. As the afternoon light dimmed, we lit candles and saw that by their flickering light no one could see our baseboards. No one missed the coconut in the appetizers, either.

That was the best Christmas Eve party we ever had—and the last. No one trusted me not turn back into the hostess from hell, and I didn’t miss the frenzy. I’d always been too busy refreshing appetizer trays and drinks to enjoy Christmas Eve, and I wasn’t creating the magical memories for my kids that I’d hoped for.

When we stopped having our bash, our neighbors Dan and Marcia started having a quieter and saner Christmas Day open house where everyone could share their leftovers from the night before. Dan and Marcia’s party became a comfortable tradition because they didn’t feel compelled to show off their culinary skills or impress people with their spotless home. Their party had the casual camaraderie of an impromptu popcorn party in a college dorm room.

You can’t be a good hostess when you’re fried and frenzied. If you don’t have the time and energy to pull off a big bash without a meltdown, keep entertaining casual. Invite guests for hot chocolate and cookies or lemon cake and sorbet in the back yard. Without all the fuss, you can focus on paying attention to the reason you threw the party (despite what P.J. O’Rourke might think): your guests.

 Simple Hospitality

Your guest is your first, your last, and your everything.

  1. Serve a variety of food so that everyone’s diet (from vegan to gluten-free) is covered.
  2. If it’s cold outside, greet them with a hot drink and invite them in to a room warmed by a roaring fire. If it’s warm, play tropical music and pass out fans.
  3. Keep their drinks filled (unless they’re tipsy).
  4. Watch for wallflowers, and spend as much time as you can with them.
  5. Introduce guests to one another and stick around to spark conversations.
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